Hemp Flower Buyer’s Guide: The Difference Between Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid Strains

If you’ve been shopping around for smokable hemp flowers, you’ve probably encountered words like “sativa-dominant,” “indica-leaning,” or “hybrid,” but perhaps you’re not sure exactly what these terms mean. How can a newbie to the herb scene choose among so many types of hemp flowers?

No worries. We’ve prepared this short article so you can get the lowdown on cannabis genetics and select your next batch of hemp buds like a pro.

Landrace Strains

Before modern growers began breeding the dizzying variety of buds we see today, all hemp and cannabis plants came from landrace genetics. Landrace strains evolved over thousands of years and adapted to specific environments, giving each one unique characteristics. Botanists classify cannabis landrace strains under three primary categories:

  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis ruderalis

Cannabis Sativa

Sativa landrace strains grow primarily in Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Reaching up to ten feet, sativa plants feature thin-fingered leaves with wide spaces between nodes.


  • Acapulco Gold: Hailing from the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico’s legendary landrace strain produces tight nuggets of golden flowers shimmering with resin.
  • Durban Poison: Born in a South African port town, Durban Poison features high levels of terpinolene, giving the strain a distinct herbal aroma and spicy flavor.
  • Chocolate Thai: Originally tied to bamboo sticks, Southeast Asia’s fabled landrace strain became fabulously popular in the 1960s counterculture.
  • Lamb’s Bread: This Jamaican sativa landrace remains famous for being one of Bob Marley’s favorite strains.
  • Panama Red: Central America’s most prized landrace strain dazzled early cannasseurs with its uplifting vibe and strong pine fragrance.

Cannabis Indica

Indica landrace strains originated mainly from the Hindu Kush mountains around modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nepal. Indica genetics typically produce short, bushy plants with broad, dark-green leaves. Indica’s shorter stature and super-resinous buds make the plants well-suited for indoor growing and hashmaking.


  • Afghani: Landrace indicas from Afghanistan produce the sticky, oversized buds that have been used to make traditional “charas” hash for generations.
  • Hindu Kush: This pure indica’s relaxing effects, earthy flavor, and pronounced sandalwood aroma make Hindu Kush a favorite among breeders and hashmakers.
  • Mazar: Grown in the wilderness of northern Afghanistan, Mazar combines profound relaxing sensations with a potent pine and citrus fragrance.
  • Lashkar Gah: Powerful euphoric and sedating effects characterize southern Afghanistan’s landrace indica.

Cannabis ruderalis

Ruderalis strains grow in difficult urban environments, mainly in northern Russia and eastern Europe. Ruderalis plants are typically low in cannabinoids, so you’re not likely to see them on a hemp flower menu. However, breeders sometimes incorporate ruderalis genetics for their ability to autoflower regardless of the light cycle.

What is a Hybrid Strain?

The term “hybrid” has a double meaning in the world of hemp and cannabis. Botanists define a hybrid as the result of crossing two distinct plant varieties. When it comes to cannabis, any plant that doesn’t belong to a landrace is technically a hybrid. The vast majority of the hemp flowers you see in local or online shops are hybrids.

The second way members of the hemp and cannabis community apply the term “hybrid” is when referring to a strain that has a near 50:50 blend of indica and sativa genetics. You’ll also see this type of hemp flower listed as a “balanced strain” or “balanced hybrid.”

How Are Sativa-Dominant, Indica-Leaning, and Hybrid Strains Different?

Although every strain is unique, there are a few general differences in the effects of the three types of hemp flowers.

Sativa-Dominant Hemp Flower Strains

Most people consider sativa-dominant strains as energetic, uplifting, creative, and social. Sativa-dominant hemp flowers are ideal for workday productivity, artistic inspiration, and festive occasions. Medical cannabis physicians often recommend sativa-dominant strains to help with conditions, such as:

  • Excessive fatigue: Some clinical studies suggest that sativa-dominant strains can boost energy levels and speed up metabolism.
  • Depression: A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior concluded that Cannabis sativa imparts antidepressant-like effects.
  • Adult-Onset ADHD: Researchers studying the effects of cannabis on people with ADHD found that many patients experienced symptom improvement from moderate use of Cannabis sativa.


  • Lifter: One of the first superstar hemp strains, Lifter enhances energy levels and promotes a positive mental outlook.
  • Sour Space Candy: The combination of sativa genetics with sweet-tart berry and citrus notes give Sour Space Candy an energetic punch and out-of-this-world flavor.
  • Elektra: Hemp flower fans often compare Elektra’s dark chocolate and ripe cherry flavors to a fine red wine.

Indica-Dominant Hemp Flower Strains

Frequently recommended for evening use, indica-leaning hemp flowers are prized for their potent relaxing and calming effects. Indica flowers contain high levels of myrcene, a terpene renowned for producing a pronounced body buzz and enhanced appetite. MMJ doctors typically recommend indica strains for conditions like:

  • Anxiety: A 2019 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that cannabis use decreased anxiety symptoms for 92% of participants.
  • Chronic pain: Rutgers University conducted a study of 163 medical cannabis consumers with chronic pain and discovered a marked preference for indica strains.
  • Digestive issues: The cannabis plant’s ability to reduce nausea and increase appetite in HIV and chemotherapy patients has been well documented by the scientific community. Indica-dominant strains seem particularly good at easing stomach problems and provoking the “munchies.”
  • Insomnia: A 2014 survey of 95 medical cannabis users found that they preferred indica strains for pain management, sedation, and sleep.


  • Bubba Kush: Chocolate and coffee flavors make Bubba Kush one of the best after-dinner hemp flower strains.
  • Northern Lights: Multiple Cannabis Cup-winning Northern Lights makes an excellent choice for drifting off to dreamland.
  • Wedding Cake: Indica-leaning Wedding Cake delights the taste buds with sweet lemon notes and a hint of vanilla.

Characteristics of Balanced Hybrids

Balanced hybrids can be either energizing or relaxing, depending on the specific genetic makeup of the strain.


  • Special Sauce: With its balanced genetics and extensive terpene profile, Special Sauce makes the perfect any-time hemp flower strain.
  • Girl Scout Cookies: Packed with flavor, iconic Girl Scout Cookies mixes pure landrace sativa with OG Kush genetics.
  • Pineapple Express: A relatively balanced hybrid, Pineapple Express is a popular all-purpose hemp strain that’s packed with flavor.

Other Factors for Selecting Cannabis Strains

The balance between indica and sativa genetics is an important thing to consider when you’re shopping for hemp flower. However, a few other factors may be even more helpful in determining the effects of a particular strain.


Cannabinoids are the primary active ingredients in hemp and cannabis plants. So far, researchers have isolated more than 120 cannabinoids with a range of unique properties.

Traditional “marijuana” culture focuses almost exclusively on the main psychoactive cannabinoid, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In contrast, legal industrial hemp plants contain naturally high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than .3% THC.

Hemp farmers have also successfully bred hemp strains like Jack Frost, which contains ample quantities of another beneficial cannabinoid, cannabigerol (CBG). Known as the “Mother Cannabinoid,” CBG is non-psychoactive and possesses unique therapeutic properties.

The latest cannabinoid in the spotlight, delta-8, is a mildly psychoactive isomer of regular THC. Delta-8 hemp flower offers consumers a mellower type of buzz and many of the same therapeutic advantages of traditional THC while being less likely to produce overwhelming side effects like paranoia.

Beginners may prefer hemp strains with lower CBD levels, while medical consumers may choose high-CBD strains or even varieties featuring alternate cannabinoids.


When it comes to hemp flower flavor and aroma, it’s all about the terpenes. Terpenes are fragrant compounds plants produce to attract pollinators and ward off pests. Scientists have discovered over 20,000 terpenes in nature and at least 150 unique terpenes in cannabis plants.

Researchers studying plants and essential oils have discovered a host of promising therapeutic uses for terpenes, including:

  • Fighting bacteria and fungi
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Aiding digestion
  • Combating free radicals
  • Enhancing memory
  • Calming stress and depression

While complete terpene profiles are seldom available on lab reports, certain hemp strains are consistently high in specific terpenes, such as:

  • Myrcene: The most abundant terpene in cannabis plants, myrcene offers calming effects and sweet, earthy flavors. Indica-dominant strains like Purple Punch feature plenty of relaxing myrcene.
  • Limonene: Also found in citrus peels, limonene is largely responsible for the potent lemon and gas aromas of strains like Sour Diesel.
  • Pinene: Thought to have memory-enhancing properties, pinene can be found in herbs like rosemary and parsley as well as in hemp strains, such as Blue Dream.
  • Beta-caryophyllene: Found in spices like cinnamon and black pepper, beta-caryophyllene can directly stimulate CB2 receptors in the immune system.
  • Linalool: Known as the “spa terpene,” linalool offers calming effects and subtle floral aromas.
  • Terpinolene: This slightly rarer terpene gives the legendary Jack Herer strain its herbal sandalwood aroma.